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Small chain wins America's favorite fast-food burger

The Five Guys logo may not be as ubiquitous as the golden arches or the pig-tailed red head along U.S. roadways, but its burgers are near and dear to the hearts of Americans.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

The Five Guys logo may not be as ubiquitous as the golden arches or the pig-tailed red head along U.S. roadways, but its burgers are near and dear to the hearts (and stomachs) of Americans.

For the second year in a row, the Virginia-based chain claimed the coveted “Best Burger” award in Zagat’s annual Fast Food Survey.

Five Guys, with 750 outlets in 40 states, isn’t as visible as American burger giants McDonald’s (33,000 outlets), Burger King (12,000 outlets) or Wendy’s (6,500 outlets), but still scored the win for top burger among the 6,064 people surveyed for Zagat’s annual best-of list for on-the-go eateries.

While Zagat has been rating restaurants since 1979, it added fast food to its critical eye in 2007. And that’s probably not surprising — while most folks will never get near a table at the four-star Daniel or Le Bernardin, Americans eat fast food an estimated 10 times a month.

Tim Zagat, co-founder of the Zagat survey, told Matt Lauer Subway’s slogan of “eat fresh” apparently rings true with fast food customers in gaining the title of most popular mega chain. “They like just about everything – they like the freshness of the ingredients particularly,” Zagat said.

Subway did drop to No. 2 for top overall mega chain, a category that averages out scores in food, facilities and service. While Wendy’s topped that list, Zagat told Lauer the category turned into a three-way battle for first. “The interesting thing about all three top categories, Wendy’s, Subway and McDonald’s were among those top three in every category,” he said.

Other winners in the Zagat fast food survey, revealed Tuesday on TODAY, included Subway restaurants for most popular mega chain and also for the best healthy eating options, and Wendy’s for top overall mega chain, which includes food, facilities and service.

For the first time ever, Zagat gave a nod to the chicken wing lovers of America, adding “best wings” to its annual list. The 750-outlet Buffalo Wild Wings topped the list, followed by Wingstop and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The chain Red Mango, with 150 outlets and growing, made the Zagat’s list for the first time, besting the Pinkberry and Jamba Juice chains for “Best Smoothie/Frozen Yogurt.”

And while there was a day when fast food and healthy eating were once considered mutually exclusive terms, the Zagat survey showed people now want to eat healthy even while they eat fast: the survey showed 69 percent favored government-mandated calorie counts on menus and that 55 percent consider those counts when ordering. “And it’s very clear the chains themselves are making major moves to accommodate that,” Zagat said.

The biggest no-brainer on the list was Starbucks, which won the best coffee category. Zagat told Lauer the chain has become such a standard-bearer for the category, “it’s almost become definitional.”

Here are other highlights of Zagat’s annual fast food survey:

Most Popular Mega Chains:

1. Subway 2. McDonald’s 3. Wendy’s 4. Burger King 5. Taco Bell

Top Overall Mega Chain:

1. Wendy’s 2. Subway 3. McDonald’s 4. Pizza Hut 5. KFC

Top Healthy Options:

1. Subway 2. Wendy’s 3. McDonald’s 4. Taco Bell 5. KFC

Fast Food Chain with Best Burger: 1. Five Guys 2. In-N-Out Burger 3. Wendy’s 4. Burger King 5. McDonald’s

Fast Food Chain with Best Wings: 1. Buffalo Wild Wings 2. Wingstop 3. KFC 4. Zaxby’s 5. Pizza Hut

Quick Refreshment Chain: 1. Red Mango 2. Pinkberry 3. Jamba Juice 4. Smoothie King 5. TCBY

Fast Food Chain with Best Coffee: 1. Starbucks 2. Dunkin’ Donuts 3. McDonald’s 4. Peet’s Coffee & Tea 5. Caribou Coffee.